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Sep 21, 2015
This article is part of a series called Editor's Pick.

There are only three agenda items at our executive meetings: People, sales, and profit.

In what order I asked? “That is the order,” was the response.

Everyone in the room looked on like an approving parent.

I belong to a group in Dubai that we called UAE HR Leaders Forum. It is a Whatsapp group that is just absolutely amazing.

We use the social media app to keep in touch throughout the week, pose questions, ask for assistance, etc. Every day there are numerous questions going back and forth about projects, vendor assistance and guidance?

The conversation above was a Chief HR Officer for a major retailer in the region describing how his leadership extols the virtue of their workforce. They are people driven and proud of it. Their thought is that their people come first. They know, and rightly so, that they will in turn take care of their customers.

Employees first, customers second

A few years ago, Vineet Nayer penned the book, Employees First, Customer Second. His book was about this same concept.   Richard Branson recently said something similar. He does not buy into the mantra of the customer comes first. His thought is that he’s surprised more companies haven’t adopted an employee-centric management strategy.

Branson made this point:

It should go without saying, if the person who works at your company is 100 percent proud of the brand and you give them the tools to do a good job and they are treated well, they’re going to be happy.”

Branson’s formula is very simple: Happy employees equal happy customers. Similarly, an unhappy employee can ruin the brand experience for not just one, but for numerous customers.

This people-first mindset is going to be the big game changer for organizations going forward. I recently met with a client who gave me a tour of their premises. We were constantly interrupted by employees wanting to say hello to this executive. He introduced me to everyone who came near. Not only that, as he introduced me, he knew each of them by their first name.

“Why would I not know their names?”

When I brought this up later during a meeting, he kind of brushed it off and did not see it as a big deal. His remark was that “Why would I not know their names? They are my colleagues.

That is the mark of a natural leader; they do it without effort.

Gallup recently issued a report that said that 70 percent of the engagement within an organization is determined by managers. If that is correct, those managers are the determinant of the engagement level within your organization.

The CEO I met is sending a message that to him the key competitive difference and the game plan for his organization to compete based on people. And from all indications, it is working perfectly.

Here’s a good example of this: the firm THE One, that started in 1996 as one store. To date they have 22 stores in eight (8) countries and a staff of close to 800. They have a true philosophy of putting the concerns of their people as the No. 1 issue.

The thought of “people first” scares a lot of business people today because they are very concerned with making the numbers at all cost. They do not feel comfortable with the people side and just pay lip service to the concept — and that is about it.

The “new breed” gets it

But, there is a new breed of CEO that gets it. They know, and feel, that they must take care of their important asset and connecting that to the bottom line and not the other way around.

I am a customer service watcher. When I go to a store or any type of business establishment, I take into account the level of connectivity when I ask a question or interact with a worker. I am looking to see if they are engaged with me, even for the smallest matter. I want to see the smile and see them having fun.

This past week I ran an HRBP certification class here in Dubai. For me as a facilitator, I have fun and I want all participants to have a fun time learning. One participants walked up to me afterwards and said,

I had basically given up on training because the trainers are all so boring. You really brought this material to life. We had so much fun laughing that on one of the breaks, the people in the other room, asked what type meeting was going on since they heard all the laughter.”

Do not ever become so jaded that you do not believe that it matters when you interact with people, because each of us can make a difference in the world by just striving to be a little more connected with what we do. If what you do is not allowing that to happen, well, maybe that is a sign that you are not connected to what you do.

Are your people looking forward to Monday?

My thought is that, “It is not about Mondays; it is about the job you are going to on Monday.” The people that are looking forward to going in and giving their best are most likely going to a people-centric environment. All those wonderful perks some companies give have a minimum affect if the environment is not welcoming. It just might delay the inevitable.

So as you go into your next meeting. what is your level of discussion? Is it just the facts, or, is their interest in what your people are thinking? If it is the later, you are on your way to building and sustaining a great work environment and the facts will eventually show it.

Only time will tell.

This article is part of a series called Editor's Pick.